Remembering The Rise and Fall of a Kindred Spirit.
You are hot one second and gone the next. Pop culture websites, whether they be for a specific audience or a broader approach are struggling to survive in the current multimedia landscape. At the time, I thought a website like Cinematical would never fail. Websites that seemed like cornerstones of their perspective genre like The Dissolve and Grantland could not escape solvency. Cinematical was discontinued in the Spring of 2011 and while it might not have met the editorial heights of its previously mentioned peers, Cinematical was a standout in a time where alternatives were scarce.
It’s easy to remember how I was first introduced to the stories that would inspire me. Through their sister site Joystiq, I found an outlet that covered movie news with no fuss. In a time where Google had a RSS reader, I found myself reading the articles through feeds when access to media websites was otherwise blocked by certain University computers. While I always had a fondness for film, my inspiration to start writing and making a voice of my own began in earnest through Cinematical. Their professionalism and quality content when there were so few other choices made them a standout among their peers. They didn’t just inspire me to pursue writing, but they carved out a niche for themselves entertaining plenty in the process.
What would eventually become an entity that captivated millions of viewers each month started as part of Weblogs Inc. In January 2005 there wasn’t much of way to differentiate between blogs since they were considered nothing more than a Live Journal. Former Editor-In-Chief and the host of the hit podcast You Must Remember This, Karina Longworth, provided some information into what it was like working on the site in the early days. Before it became Cinematical, it was two separate blogs and Longworth was responsible for quick “takes” on the daily film news which has become common practice among film websites. Take a newsflash, add your voice/jokes/opinions, and send to print.
Cinematical was able to quickly rise in stature thanks to its connection to websites like Engadget and the aforementioned Joystiq. Google ranking also played a part in this because the site would post film festival reviews and then when the film was finally released theatrically it was at the top of Google’s search along with other entertainment stalwarts like Variety. This led credibility to Cinematical’s coverage, something smaller websites struggle with consistently in this current age.
In the fall of 2005, Cinematical was to become part of the AOL media empire. It was initially seen as a blessing, Longworth and her staff could finally be paid reasonably. AOL had other ideas unfortunately, they were in the business of acquiring brands with credibility that could be run for peanuts. Longworth left, but Cinematical was just beginning to make a statement in the new media landscape.
In August 2006, Erik Davis was named Editor-in-Chief of Cinematical. Under his leadership the website continued to flourish. Davis said “what was separating us from the other more fanboy news-driven movie blogs, [was] the fact we were also playing with new column ideas and championing the writers.” One of those column’s was the highly influential, Girls on Film, which was started by contributor Monika Bartyzel.
What was described as a weekly column full of female-centric musing, rants, love and aggravation, Bartyzel was given the opportunity to speak out about issues that were a rare excursion for the major outlets. The column would continue to gain traction throughout the rest of Cinematical’s history, mostly through the commitment of Bartyzel. She was giving readers long, critical essays about diverse topics when that wasn’t necessarily what other outlets were publishing.
One of the last topics Bartyzel tackled was the highly problematic representation of women in Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. She would write that Sucker Punch’s depiction of women was not of empowerment but of “warriors protecting the male gaze and male authority.” In April of 2014, Bartyzel would revisit her Sucker Punch argument when challenging how Warner Bros is going to portray Wonder Woman in the new DC comics cinematic universe. Whether or not Warner Bros will take her advice is another thing entirely.
What I will probably remember most about Cinematical, is that is was a news source I could trust with voices I was interested in reading. Cinematical would likely be a whole different beast if it was still around today. The rise of Youtube and video/podcasts have changed the landscape of how films are covered. Some videos get thousands of views, where back in the days of Cinematical the only way to obtain that kind of coverage was to be featured on the front page of Yahoo or AOL.
Five years later, Cinematical should be seen as a leader when there were very few alternative to print. It was also a blueprint of a big website acquiring writing from a multitude of voices. I wouldn’t be writing in a professional manner were it not for the team at Cinematical. Whether or not their contributions to film journalism at large will still be remembered years from now is debatable. Even so, Cinematical was a successful collaboration and will continue to inspire the work of this writer for years to come.